How to Find and Train a Leak-Sniffing Dog

With industry interest in leak-detection dogs on the rise, we talked to dog trainers Tracy Owen and Carrie Kessler to learn more about the process they used to find and train such an asset for Central Arkansas Water

How to Find and Train a Leak-Sniffing Dog

Dog trainers Tracy Owen (left) and Carrie Kessler offered some tips for municipalities looking into leak-detection canines.

Interested in Location/Detection?

Get Location/Detection articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Location/Detection + Get Alerts

Water utilities’ interest in leak-detection dogs has risen since last year, when it was reported that Central Arkansas Water (CAW) in Little Rock had hired a canine to help sniff out pipe breaks. Some officials in the water sector may be curious about what it takes to find and train such a helpful asset, and trainers Tracy Owen and Carrie Kessler are more than happy to share that information.

They run an organization called Dogsamust, which now has a division called On the Nose Water Leak Detection Dogs dedicated especially to training canine water workers. Owen and Kessler have worked with rescue dogs for over 20 years and have developed the skills to assess and train dogs that could be useful for various services. Since training Vessel — CAW’s leak detection dog — the idea of employing canines for leak-detection has gained popularity, and they say they’ve been busy training numerous others.

The right dog

Finding the right dog for a job in the water sector isn’t a task to be taken lightly. It takes research, and it takes time. “It’s very important that these dogs have good social skills and have absolutely no fear of new situations, new people or other dogs,” says Kessler.

Another advantage she found with Vessel is that she had no prey drive and therefore was not distracted by such things that may usually take the focus of a normal dog. Training around distractions such as children or other dogs prepare them for anything they might encounter in the field when hunting down waterline leaks.

Vessel, North America's first leak-detection dog.
Vessel, North America's first leak-detection dog.

“She has had probably about triple the amount of public access hours that are required,” says Owen, when talking about Vessel. “In order to have public access certification, they need to be okay in all situations.”

With years of experience training canines for other services such as hearing loss assistance, Kessler says that the characteristics needed for a good leak-detection dog are similar, yet different. “This requires more drive,” she says. “For our leak-detection dogs, it’s all a game.”

When they discovered Vessel, it was obvious she had very high ball drive and loved to play. This trait correlates well to leak-detection, as finding the water is all a part of the game. When a dog is out on a job, they are just out playing and doing what they love. Viable dogs have come from all over for the trainers. Vessel, for instance, was a rescue dog and identified for advanced training because of her intellect and energetic drive. Since then, Kessler has found many more shelter and rescue dogs that fit the profile, as well as dogs from breeders. Kessler also says there is advantage to assessing young adult dogs for this purpose because they are able to measure their sociability and test them on more advanced skills that may not have developed yet in young puppies.

Finding a trainer

The most crucial thing for leak detection is finding a trainer who knows what to look for in a dog. “We want a dog with high drive, but a lot of times those dogs will have a short fuse,” says Owen. “We want a dog that has a lot of drive and tolerance.”

The ability to pick out those characteristics in a dog and take advantage of other individual traits comes from experience in training. It is also important that trainers focus on positive training. “Positive reinforcement makes for a really happy dog that is very friendly in the public,” says Kessler.

Another unexpected benefit for utilities, according to Kessler, is that they’re great for public relations and education. Officials say the public is encouraged when they see dogs working with their local utilities to keep drinking water safe.

Kessler also discussed that how the dogs are kept and treated outside of the work environment is very important. She encourages separation of work and home life. “When the dog is off duty, we want that dog to be treated as a family pet,” Kessler says. “We find that is one of the things that really help a dog thrive mentally.

“Our goal is to not just train a dog to do a job, but we want that dog to last for a very long time, and part of that is making sure that the dog is not just treated like a piece of equipment.” For more information about Owen, Kessler and On the Nose training, visit


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.